Professors, prioritize student learning over memorizing

Michael Lazenby, Columnist

Students track their grades like hawks. A percentage change can shift a student’s outlook for the rest of the semester. Students may feel that receiving a high grade is everything, which can lead to students focusing solely on memorization of exam material. As such, students don’t learn as effectively when they are only taking tests.

Students are conditioned to come to class, take notes, memorize material and take tests every so often. This needs to change.

The variety of content offered in the College of Liberal Arts is rich and applicable to all facets of humanity. Professors in COLA need to promote student learning and interaction for students to absorb as much as they can. A greater understanding of class content, as a result of this environment, is beneficial to both students and those they will interact with in the future.

Allison Agthe, an Asian cultures and languages junior, expressed her concerns regarding COLA professors promoting memorizing over learning.

“The majority (of her classes) have been focused on memorizing; like 60% of my classes,” Agthe said. “The classes that do focus more on the memorization don’t spark a joy of learning or intellectual curiosity for the subject.”

If students feel that over half of their classes involve more memorization than learning, there’s a problem. Memorizing is reading a passage of a textbook in hopes that the information will stick in your brain. Learning is integrating and applying the textbook in real life. Students learn more by doing projects because they must apply their understanding of class content in an informative and even abstract way.

“One of my professors in the COLA made the class interactive. We would get to write a creative story using whatever ideas or concepts she taught or would create a video or maybe do an art project,” Agthe said. “I retained around 80% of the content she taught in those classes. To this day, I can hold a conversation on what she taught. It helped everyone really enjoy what we were learning.”

Project-based learning is more natural than memorizing. If professors assigned more projects, students would learn more organically and their grades would be a more accurate representation of their comprehension of the material. Most can memorize, but those who genuinely understand the material can apply what they’ve learned in a project.

Alexandra Clark, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, understands the merit of an environment filled with interaction and project-based learning.

“The more engaged (students) can get and the more hands-on experiences we can create surrounding the content, the more helpful it is,” Clark said. “The current culture is filled with little to no interaction between students and professors. If there were more interaction, students would not only be able to retain more in class, they would be better equipped to apply what they are being taught.”

Clark is already changing the culture. While she’s a relatively new professor at UT, her creative yet feasible methods should be studied by her seasoned colleagues. Clark immerses her students in topics related to modern issues that encourage debate and discussion. She puts a heavy grading emphasis on participation, and approximately 40% of the questions on each test are open-ended, allowing students to be more thoughtful in their answers. Open-ended problems cannot be fixed by binary, multiple-choice solutions.

An engaged class is a learning class; professors need to help students learn. It’s difficult for students to effect future change if they aren’t inspired now. Professors need to focus more on students’ learning and less on their memorization skills.

The future depends on it.     

Lazenby is an economics junior from Chicago, Illinois.